One heroin addict’s journey



Recovering addict Bryan Snyder of Dedham did not start using opiates until he was in college. He said the crackdown on prescription drug abuse later made him switch from pills to heroin to feed his habit.
Recovering addict Bryan Snyder of Dedham did not start using opiates until he was in college. He said the crackdown on prescription drug abuse later made him switch from pills to heroin to feed his habit.

Stereotypes of the drug addict not only are wrong, they give a false impression of addiction and of those who are affected, according to Barbara Royal of the Open Door Recovery Center in Ellsworth.

“People believe it’s a behavioral issue, that it’s someone choosing to be bad,” Royal said recently.

Royal is director of the adult and adolescent substance abuse treatment facility, a position she’s held for 17 years. She started working there in 1984.

Even family members can have a difficult time grasping the seriousness of addiction and the effect it is having on their loved one.

“There’s a lack of understanding, a sense of shame,” Royal said.

The truth is addicts come from all segments of society. And, yes, sometimes they do bad things. That speaks to the grip opiate addiction has on the user, not necessarily to the moral character of the addict, Royal said.

Bryan Snyder knows all this firsthand. A client at Open Door, the 31-year-old Dedham man is, as he described it, one of the many “faces of addiction.”

Snyder, a recovering heroin addict, has been sober for seven months. He said he now looks forward to a future that extends beyond getting his next fix.

“As soon as I made the choice to change my life, it got better every day,” he said during a recent interview. “I’m more able to be compassionate, more able to form close relationships.”

Snyder’s path to heroin addiction may or may not be typical. Still, chances are his story is familiar.

He grew up in a middle-class household, one of four children, graduating from John Bapst High School in 2002. He attended the University of Maine, graduating with a degree in business in 2008.

“I had my first drink when I was 12,” he said. In high school, he continued drinking and began smoking marijuana. Substance abuse wasn’t his only issue.

“For a long time I threw my addiction on doing sports,” Snyder said. Hard drugs would come later. “I didn’t start using opiates until I got my [college] degree.”

Prescription painkillers, especially oxycodone, were readily available on the black market. Snyder began using these opioid-based drugs, at first crushing and snorting them to get high and, later, injecting them intravenously. His drug use might have been in response to a friend’s cancer diagnosis, he said.

“I started hanging out with the wrong people,” Snyder said. “Then one day you wake up and you’re an addict.”

As public awareness of the prescription drug abuse grew, not just here in Maine but nationwide, law enforcement got tougher in its response. The crackdown curtailed the supply of pills available on the street but had an unintended consequence. Drug dealers in Maine began importing heroin, which is less expensive than pills and more potent. They found a ready market.

“I think that’s why a lot of people are switching over,” Snyder said. At least that’s what prompted him to start using heroin.

Snyder acknowledges the toll addiction takes on the addict and those around him.

“At a certain point it’s about the feeling,” he said of getting high. “Friends, family and loved ones all come second. The drive to get the drug is so intense you do things you never imagined you would do.”

At the peak of his addiction, Snyder said he was spending as much as $300 a day to support his habit. To support his habit he did some of the “things” he never thought he would do. In 2010, he was arrested and charged with theft.

The arrest led to his first stint in treatment. He came to the Open Door and, for the first time, realistically confronted his addiction.

“That’s when everything came out,” he said. Still, Snyder went back to his old ways.

“You can’t recover until you’re ready for it,” he said.

Royal agrees. “Relapse isn’t uncommon,” she said. “Sometimes it can take three or four attempts before someone is successful. It’s always a work in progress.”

A second attempt at treatment ended the same way for Snyder. In July 2014, he was arrested on a heroin possession charge, a Class C crime for which he faces up to five years in prison. He was accepted into the drug court program in Hancock County, where one of the conditions is participation in a treatment program. If he successfully completes the drug court program, the charge will be lowered to a misdemeanor and any prison sentence suspended.

Snyder considers himself lucky. For one thing, he escaped infections such as hepatitis and HIV that are commonly associated with intravenous drug use. More importantly, he survived the experience, unlike some of the addicts he knew who died from overdoses.

The introduction of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate used to cut the more expensive heroin, has led to a surge in overdose deaths among heroin users unaware of the potency of the mix.
The introduction of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate used to cut the more expensive heroin, has led to a surge in overdose deaths among heroin users unaware of the potency of the mix.

Overdose deaths have reached epidemic proportions and are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to several studies. The danger has increased with the introduction of fentanyl into the heroin supply, Royal said.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate that drug dealers have been using to cut the more expensive heroin. The practice is linked to a surge in overdose deaths among heroin users unaware of the potency of the mix. Snyder said the possibility of overdosing, even when he knew the heroin was mixed with fentanyl, was never a deterrent, which again attests to how the need for the drug outweighs all other considerations.

“In the midst of my addiction I didn’t care if I lived or died,” Snyder said.

Stemming the tide of illegal drugs is a Sisyphian task and the problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon. From Royal’s perspective, Maine sorely needs more treatment programs, especially ones that don’t rely on replacement therapies such as Suboxone or methadone.

“I’m in the minority,” she said. “The movement is toward replacement therapy. Do not detox someone and send them home on drugs.”

Snyder, during one of his unsuccessful attempts at treatment, was prescribed Suboxone, which itself contains an opioid.

“It’s a crutch,” he said.

Royal maintains more beds for addicts to detox in a hospital setting are needed. Once the person is stabilized then the work begins at Open Door where clients participate in an intensive outpatient program that includes group therapy and one-on-one counseling.

“We teach clients that the drug is a symptom; let’s treat the root causes,” she said. “We treat the whole person, mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander

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